As the world of Wes Craven continues to unfold around me, I realize that perhaps this isn’t the rabbit hole I was expecting from someone who did so many great things for the horror genre.
Invitation to Hell is a 1984 made for TV movie. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) lists this as a theatrical film, however every other site lists it as a TV Movie. It stars soap opera actors, mostly ones from ABC, and the film was nominated for a prime time Emmy, an honor a theatrical film couldn’t have. That said, I didn’t even need to see this film to finish off my list of Craven’s films to see (I was planning on skipping the made for television films until the very end), and that irks me because I had to buy the DVD of the film, which ended up being in fullscreen only. Yuck. I didn’t even know those things still existed.
Invitation to Hell introduces us to a family that moves to a new town and gets invited to join the new country club, owned by Jessica Jones (played by soap superstar Susan Lucci). Things slowly get revealed, and the country club is a little more sinister than it first appeared.
This film is essentially The Stepford Wives. However, instead of just wives and robots, everyone is being replaced by demons. It’s an interesting idea, but I think Craven was held back by the fact that this was a made for TV movie. The script, while corny at times, has a very strong third act, even if it is a bit silly.
The set pieces in the third act are worth mentioning. This a mild spoiler, so you’ve been warned. The set is basically Hell, and it looks fantastic, but the inner circle of Hell is the town, shown through some weird color filter so it looks like you’re watching a 3D movie in the ’80s without the blue and red glasses. It’s really trippy, and something I haven’t seen done ever before. That is something that Craven loves to do when you look at his major, game changing films.
The cast is all pretty solid considering their soap roots. Susan Lucci is a hoot as the vixen-like country club owner. The kids are kind of lifeless until the awesome exorcist voices start coming out of them. The star of this all, though, is the computer. Imagine 1984 and the thoughts people had about what a computer could do. Our main character, Matt (played by Robert Urich) is figuring everything out, and types into the computer, “how many of these people belong to the country club”. The computer responds in text with “all”. It’s just funny, and the weird computer voice we hear adds to the unintentionally funny bits.
Invitation to Hell is very light on the horror, but that doesn’t mean it lacks the ability to create tension and suspense. There are a few really tense moments in the film, something that is a Craven staple. If nothing else, I have to say that I wanted to watch the film to its ending, just to see what it was going to do. Even my partner got entranced with the film, and I think he was more into it because it’s a bit of a little time capsule back to the 1980s. There are two interesting things to be seen here. One is the mom, whose pants rest right below her boobs, which is a hysterical fashion trend from that time. The other is a scene near the end where Matt attends a costume party in his astronaut suit (that shoots laser beams!) and someone at the party is dressed like a Nazi. Not Hitler, just a plain ol’ Nazi. This is something we wouldn’t see today, with our poor, sensitive minds and soccer moms.